JOHNSTOWN - Since he was a young child, Paul?Lakata has wanted to be an artist.
"I've always had a love of art," the Caroga Lake resident said. "Since I was a little kid I've been painting and drawing."
The 52-year-old owner of Barney's Sign Company in the city has more than the sign and graphic-design business to let him make a living doing what he loves. Lakata also has been doing Adirondack rustic art for the last 10 years.
Lakata touches up a work at his Johnstown
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor
His rustic artwork - which includes painting common Adirondack scenes and creating a frame that he tries to make from local materials - led to a stint this month as the artist-in-residence for a few days at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain?Lake.
"It was good," Lakata said. "I don't normally work in front of other people."
However, Lakata's work at Barney's Sign Company is seen by many people, though they may not realize it.
Lakata, a city native, was well on his way to being an art teacher while studying at FMCC in 1983. However, he decided to accept an offer that year from Barney?Bellinger to buy into the sign company as a partner. In 1994, Lakata purchased the rest of the company from?Bellinger.
Due to the success and established clientele of the business on North?Perry?Street, Lakata said, he decided to still call it Barney's Sign?Company.
Those customers - which range from businesses in Rochester, Watertown, Lake George and New York?City - like the carved gold-leaf techniques, the artwork and the handpainted signs the business offers, Lakata said.
"Ninety-nine percent of sign companies don't do a lot of handwork now," he said.
While work has kept him busy, Lakata has found time to explore other artistic avenues.
As his website -paullakata.com/ - notes, his painting and murals are in private collections, as well as the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Wax Museum in Cooperstown and the Lake Placid Lodge.
Kathryn Zajicek, a retired art teacher from Johnstown High?School, had Lakata as a student in the 1976-77 school year, when he was a senior and she started teaching.
They've been friends ever since.
"I admire him," Zajicek said. "He's very humble. He doesn't talk about himself very much, but he's very accomplished."
Zajicek said in addition to Lakata's great natural talent and ambition, his time management and ability to multi-task stood out. After school, she recalled, he often would go right to work. Over the years, he has kept right on working.
"He's always been busy," she said. "He's always had a lot to do."
Zajicek noted how interesting it is that Lakata's artwork, for a man whose mind is always working, reflects the beauty and peaceful tranquility of the Adirondacks.
About 10 years ago, Lakata said, he started creating his rustic art.
He quickly found the market for the work was lucrative, and it was something he enjoyed taking time to do.
"From Paul's antique-like sepia-tone paintings to his lush full-color renderings, he is constantly searching for and finding new innovative ways to express his own personal rustic style," Lakata's website said.
Lakata said he, his wife and their two children do a lot of traveling in the Adirondacks. They always are taking photographs, some of which later become the inspiration for one of his oil paintings.
While at the Adirondack Museum from July 14 to 18, Lakata finished one painting that featured a solitary figure sitting in a boat out on a calm body of water, with trees, shore and Adirondack sky in the background.
It was not the first time Lakata had been at the museum. For about nine years, he has taken part in a rustic art show.
Lakata said because of the show, the museum was familiar with his work so he was contacted to take part in the artist-in-residence program.
The program has a different artist come for a few days every week for eight weeks during July and August. The artists create work at the museum, giving the public the opportunity to ask questions about "techniques, tools, and artistic expression," the museum's website - www.adkmuseum.org/ - said.
While a few people asked him questions about his actual oil painting, people showed plenty of interest in the frames he creates.
In addition to trying to use local materials, the frames have a natural look. Some appear to still have bark on them.
Zajicek, who visited Lakata while he was at the museum, said the frames show Lakata's woodworking skills, in addition to his ability as an artist.
"With the rustic art, you can tell he has a passion for it," she said.